Back in mid-April I went on a guided hike in the Oak Ridge Reservation led by volunteers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is the first, maybe second, time I went off-trail hiking. The first time might have been at the Marin Headlands in the sixth grade, sort of like science camp, and there was an old trail that they were trying to "phase out." Normally you wouldn't hike off-trail because the trail keeps people off the natural preserve, so opportunities to hike off-trail are limited. When I planned on going on this guided hike, I actually didn't know this was hiking off trail. I read the description and all I remembered was that it was a moderate hike, I had to wear good shoes, and something about rocky terrain. During the safety talk before the hike, they talked about ticks and poison ivy, but I still didn't realize it would be off-trail hiking, I just figured, it was the lab, of course they'd do a safety talk.
After starting the hike, it took me a while to think, "Oh interesting, there is no trail." The Oak Ridge Reservation is otherwise closed to the public as a conservation measure, but the primary reason is that within the reservation is a pretty secured national lab. The benefit of closing the reservation off the the public is that when they lead groups (usually educational) inside, people can see what the forest would look like without the disturbance of humans. See the picture above? It's ginseng. You won't find it in any forest in this area because ginseng is expensive, so people will harvest it and sell it. It's not a rare plant otherwise, but such circumstances make it a rare sighting. I'm not sure I can attribute this to the closed-off factor, but I saw a lot of wildflowers that I hadn't seen on 2 other wildflower hikes.
|It's a cave!|
Attending the hike were a few other experts on plants and also fish and amphibian experts. The amphibian expert came in handy when we found a frog. We put him on the spot and made him identify it. Ha. It was a really educational hike. We learned about endangered plant species, invasive and foreign plants and we also smelled a bunch of plants. Of the ones we smelled, there was one that was minty and another that smelled like an auto repair shop. Great diversity of smells!
The following pictures are of a cave we saw at the end of the hike. This cave would only be found when the water levels are high. The water levels in the pond will be at the same level as the lake on the other side of the hill. There's a name for it but I don't remember what it was. Anyone else know? It's pretty cool! Along the cave grew this gorgeous white flower that covered it like ground covering, but this is cave covering! The guy leading the hike said that he used to study that white flower because his field is rare and endangered plant species, but when he found this flower all along the cave, he was like, "I don't think it's a rare plant species in need of preservation..." so he moved onto other plants.
At the end of the hike I found a few ticks on me, so I went home and showered immediately. Unless you're scared of insects, I would highly recommend off-trail hiking (when permitted). The terrain can be a challenge, so check on the level of difficulty beforehand. Also, after two guided hikes, I'm a big fan of guided hikes as well. Check your local parks as well as state and national parks for such programs. If you're in the East Tennessee area, check out other guided hikes led by volunteers from Oak Ridge National Lab.